AMES, Iowa,Aug 4 – The US Republican presidential primary race displayed a tilt to the right Sunday after conservative Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the contest and Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann won a telling victory in an early poll.
The fourth-term governor, supported by the Christian right, vowed to put Americans back to work and assailed Barack Obama on the economy, where the president is most vulnerable.
“We cannot and must not endure four more years of rising unemployment, rising taxes, rising debt, rising energy dependence on nations that intend us harm,” Perry said, as he announced his candidacy in South Carolina Saturday.
Hours later, Bachmann, a favorite of the ultraconservative Tea Party movement, took first place in Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll — seen as a key indicator of who will fare well in early nominating contests next year.
“This is the first step toward taking the White House in 2012,” Bachmann told supporters. “We’ve just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president.”
Bachmann won 4,823 votes, or around 28.5 percent of the 16,892 ballots cast in the unscientific and nonbinding poll.
Congressman Ron Paul, who is sometimes called the “intellectual godfather” of the Tea Party philosophy, was just a few votes behind with 4,671, or 27.6 percent.
But former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, seen by many as a relative moderate, came in a distant third with just 2,293, or about 13.6 percent.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, until now seen as the front-runner for the nomination, was seventh with just 567 votes, or almost 3.4 percent.
He was outgunned by Perry, who wasn’t even an official candidate until Saturday and did not take part in the straw poll. The Texan garnered 718 votes, or 3.6 percent, as a write-in candidate.
Perry had formally entered the race hours earlier, vowing to put Americans back to work and blaming Obama for the country’s “economic disaster” and the first-ever downgrade of the its S&P credit rating.
He slammed White House reassurances that America was in slow but steady recovery from a crippling global meltdown in 2008, saying: “That is not a recovery, that is an economic disaster.”
The governor has touted his “Texas miracle,” in which the state has led the nation in creating jobs since the 2008 recession, as the nationwide unemployment rate has hovered above nine percent.
Perry, who succeeded George W. Bush as governor in 2000, also has strong credentials as a social conservative, and earlier this month held a prayer rally in a Texas stadium attended by more than 30,000 people.
But critics say the new jobs in Texas have been mainly low-paying, and have come as a result of deregulation and painful cuts in social spending.
“Middle class families know his economic record is no miracle — it’s a tall tale,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said Saturday.
“Governor Perry allowed special interests to write their own rules, hired corporate lobbyists to oversee corporations, and cut funding for programs that would create opportunity for middle class families.”
Multi-millionaire Romney has been making the most of his private sector experience on the stump, but faces lingering skepticism from core Republican voters for past moderate views on issues like health care and climate change.
Perry “poses a credible and a strong threat to Romney, because he (Perry) is in good standing with social conservatives,” who regularly define Republican presidential primaries, said Dickinson.
The governor has been snapping at Romney’s heels in opinion polls of Republicans over the past few months, amid widespread discontent among party insiders with their crop of candidates.
Some Democratic leaders spent the day in Iowa meeting with party activists and the media as they portrayed the Republican candidates as extremists who are associated with the Tea Party and who have poisoned American politics.
Part of the ammunition Democrats used to show proof of extremism was the Republican presidential debate held in Ames Thursday.
Republicans offered complete resistance to allowing tax breaks to expire for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, leaving the repayment of US debt on the backs of middle- and low-income families, they said.